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L. J. Roberts (Oakland, CA, USA)

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The Bones of Paris (Thorndike Press Large Print Mystery Series)
The Bones of Paris (Thorndike Press Large Print Mystery Series)
by Laurie R. King
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.50

3.0 out of 5 stars Has some great strengths but also some painful weaknesses, 9 Nov 2013
First Sentence: The envelope reached Bennett Grey early Wednesday afternoon.

There's nothing to equal a powerful opening that contains evocative descriptions which paint mental pictures. We feel a connection to Bennett, even though we know nothing about him. King has captivated us and ensured our waiting to follow along, even if it is to a sex-scented bedroom in Paris.

Unfortunately, we also soon run into an issue which can be very annoying. Apparently, there was a prior book with these characters; "Touchstone". Without having read the first book, one feels rather lost in understanding the character relationships. An even greater shortcoming is that neither the back story of the character in the prologue, nor the character himself, appears until much later in this book. Rather than being intriguing, it starts to leave the reader feeling lost and dissatisfied, particularly as he is one of the most interesting characters of the book and doesn't reappear until nearly two-thirds of the way into the story.

Stuyvesant is the primary narrator of the story and an interesting one. He is a perfect reflection of the period, yet not someone you always like. He is the 1920s noir private eye, yet not so tough he is without vulnerability and self doubt. The relationship between Harris and Grey's sister Sarah, and the scenes of them together are some of the most powerful of the story.

King's dialogue has the feel of the period. You can almost hear the narrator of a black and white film from the period..."It's always a shock, when someone cares more about a thing than you do." King adeptly plays with the reader's psyche. At the same time, she is very good at conveying the persona of whosoever's POV controls each section of the story, and at conveying emotion..."The list was, in fact, a ringed notebook bulging with anguish and loss.".

King captures Paris beautifully..."Paris obscured by snow or softened by fog, Paris adrift on fallen blossoms or carpeted in autumn leaves, Paris in the rain, at night, the lights streaking on the pavement ...." She creates a very strong sense of place and, as the art and artists of the time play a significant role to the story--and she does include almost every one of them who was in Paris during that time--, her descriptions may send one to the internet to learn more about the individuals and their art. This also, however, becomes an issue as some of the narrative sections become so long, the reader may start looking for the actual story wondering where the core of the plot has gone.

I was relieved when we did get back to the story but dismayed when I identified the villain fairly early on. While the climactic scene was suspenseful and dramatic, it was also a bit over the top with shades of Edgar Allen Poe.

"The Bones of Paris" has some great strengths but also some painful weaknesses. It is an interesting book and one I never considered putting down. Yet, I can't help but wonder whether a much stronger editor would have solved some of the issues and made it a much better book. Please, authors, do use and listen to your editors. It's unfortunately, as Ms. King is a very good writer and her book "Folly" will always remain as one of my favorites.

THE BONES OF PARIS (Hist Mys/Susp-Harris Stuyvesant-Paris-1929) - Okay
King, Laurie R.
Bantam, 2013

Paradise City (Joe Gunther Mysteries)
Paradise City (Joe Gunther Mysteries)
by Archer Mayor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.27

4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read with delightful twists and very good suspense, 9 Nov 2013
First Sentence: Mickey looked around for what felt like the hundredth time, so far from his comfort zone, he could barely stay put.

A wealthy, elderly woman in Boston interrupts a burglar. In addition to the usual electronics and other usual items, he also stole antique items and jewelry. When it doesn't seem the Boston police are dedicated to finding the culprit, the woman's niece is not about to give up. In Vermont, there has also been a series of similar burglaries except that arson is also involved. Once the cases are put together, the road seems to lead to a town in Vermont.

Mayor's compelling opening immediately captures the reader's interest and sympathy. It also ensures you are not about to stop reading.

The characters are very well introduced; both new ones unique to this story and those continuing characters that are part of the series. In short order, he provides their backstories and defines their relationships to one another. Although Joe is the lead character, and a very good one, there is considerable focus given to Willie Kinkle who works for Joe. Willie is something of an anti-hero. He lives by an unyielding code, is understood by Joe and is such a great character. He is by no means a "psychopathic sidekick," but is much more complex than that. Mina, singular to this book, is a character I appreciated. She's smart, determined and independent; sometimes too much so for her own good. Even so, she is a definite step above being too-stupid-to-live, which is very nice.

As for Joe, It is nice to see his long-standing relationship with Gail transition and progress, as relationships often do. It is the relationships--Joe and Gail, Willie and his wife Sammy--that humanize the story. However, readers new to the series need not be concerned as, again, Mayor provide all one needs to feel involved and connected to these characters.

Mayor loves writing multi-threaded plots, and he does it very well. Each provides a different prospective and helps build the suspense. You know something is coming but are not certain from where, or when it will erupt. Through Joe, he also provides an interesting observation on crime. "It still surprised Joe, even after so many interviews, how a seemingly brainless act of violence or destruction could be occasionally tied to a core belief, instead of just a thoughtless outburst."

"Paradise City" was an enjoyable read with delightful twists and very good suspense.

PARADISE CITY (Pol Proc-Joe Gunther-Vermont-Contemp) - G+
Mayor, Archer - 23rd in series
Minotaur Books, 2012

Three Can Keep a Secret (Joe Gunther)
Three Can Keep a Secret (Joe Gunther)
by Archer Mayor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.60

5.0 out of 5 stars A very good, solid police procedural with interesting pathology, good twists and an ending you won't soon forget, 9 Nov 2013
First Sentence: Leo Gunther gingerly closed the squeaky door of this beloved and battered Ford Mustang and glanced up at the low-hanging sky.
Hurricane Irene hits Vermont and hits it hard. The flooding has caused a casket to be uncovered but what's inside is not a body; only rocks. The local mental health hospital is flooded. An elderly, long-term patient named Carolyn Barbar, "The Governor", has disappeared. At a very up-scale senior and assisted care facility, one of the founders and residents, Gordon Marshall has been murdered. Joe Gunther and the Vermont Bureau of Investigation definitely have their hands full.
The story opens a strong sense of tension, very good descriptions of Vermont's topography and a connection to Joe's family. It also engages the reader to move forward.
Each of Mayor's characters is distinct and individual. They are not super heroes, in that they are not flashy. Each character has a past, and varying levels of emotional baggage. In other words, they are very human. One of the most fascinating characters is Willie. For those who have been following the series, it is fascinating to see how he changes and progresses with each book. For those who have not, his story stands well on its one. That Mayor provides comprehensive backstories so as to include new readers, is something I very much appreciate.
Three are different teams following up on different threads, yet it is still a group that does work together as a team. Although there are multiple threads to the plot, each holds its own as complete and easy to follow. Even when they mesh, they very much make sense. There is even a very timely and effective side story having to do with backroom politics and just how ugly it can be. One particularly relevant passage; "He's been in the game for a long time, and never one had he been impressed by the clear-thinking and intellectual dispassion of the average voter." While there are personal relationships that contribute to the depth of the story, they never become soap-opera-ish and overwhelm the plot.
For those who are fans of an author with a strong voice and good dialogue, you won't be disappointed..."She still pissed at me?" Joe smiled as he applied a Band-Aid over Willy's left eye. "She mentioned something about a newborn's father risking his life for the sake of a dirtbag who didn't have the brains of a urinal cake."
"Three Can Keep a Secret" is a very good, solid police procedural with interesting pathology, good twists and an ending you won't soon forget.

THREE CAN KEEP A SECRET (Pol Proc-Joe Gunther-Vermont-Contemp) - VG+
Mayor, Archer - 24th in series
Monotaur Books, 2013

Claws of the Cat (Shinobi Mystery)
Claws of the Cat (Shinobi Mystery)
by Susan Spann
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.87

3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting, easy, and very enjoyable, read, 9 Nov 2013
First Sentence: Father Mateo strolled through the narrow yard, hands folded and face cast down in meditation.

Portuguese priest Father Mateo has sworn to protect Sayuri, a beautiful tea house entertainer accused of murdering her samurai client. The priest has only two days to prove her innocence or both she, and the priest, will be executed. Master ninja Hiro, translator and protector of Father Mateo, must work to keep them both alive.
From the beginning, we learn about the culture, hierarchies and rituals of the time. It was fascinating to learn all the cultural differences and nuances. Spann cleverly uses Hiro as the means for conveying such information. It's as interesting seeing the Eastern views of Western religion and habits as it is the other way around. That the author provided a glossary of terms was very helpful. A cast of characters would have been equally beneficial.

The characters are fascinating, particularly the kitten. Hopefully, more information on Hiro and his background will be provided as the series progresses.

There were coincidences within the story, which dropped the rating for me. However, I very much appreciated being surprised by the identity of the killer.

"Claws of the Cat" is an interesting, easy, and very enjoyable, read.

CLAWS OF THE CAT (Hist Mys-Hiro-Japan-16th Cent/1564) - 1st of series - Good
Spann, Susan - 1st of series
Minotaur Press, 2013

Detective Inspector Huss
Detective Inspector Huss
by Helene Tursten
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully plotted with excellent twists that keep the reader thoroughly engaged each step along the way, 9 Nov 2013
First Sentence: Nobody saw him fall through the dense November darkness.

When a wealthy businessman plummets from his fourth-floor apartment balcony, landing virtually at the feet of his wife and son, it raises the immediate question of suicide of murder. When it turns out to be murder, The Violent Crimes Unit and D.I. Irene Huss are called in. While they are having a hard time finding a suspect, they also can't find a motive. Additional deaths and even more violent crimes cause them to realize there is much more going on than one death. Or is there?

In spite of the title being changed from "The Broken Tang Horse," which would have made much more sense, the prologue is excellent and makes the reader want more.

The introduction for the characters is well blended into the plot. Each members of the investigative team is introduced briefly, but effectively. The team, from D.S. Sven Andersson, to the young officer on loan, is a well-balanced collection with natural, human strengths and weaknesses.

We learn of Irene and her life throughout the story; Irene's chef husband, Kristin, who provides a strong balance to her unbalanced world, her two teen-aged daughters going through the angst of growing up; and that Irene holds a black belt, third dan, which helps her deal with trauma and contributes to the dimensionality of her character. Food is a significant factor in this story, both that made by Kristin and that eaten out. It's one of those books where you find yourself getting hungry.

Excellent dialogue "Is something bothering you?" "No, nothing. It's depressing weather. Depressing, with scattered suicides. Depressing. Depressing!" Her wry humor shows through and helps to balance the seriousness of the story..."The attorney Tore Elderstam used to life there..." "'Used to,' you said--where did he move to?" "Eastern Cemetery, the Elderstarn family plot."

Tursten has a strong voice that works even through the translation. "There is nothing sorrier or more depressing than the sight of a damaged or mangled building, ruined by fire and water. If you know that a person died in the flames, the sight becomes a brooding threat."

This is a book with depth. Many serious social issues are raised such as sexism and sexual harassment, in the work place and outside of it. I appreciated that she also described the complete lack of understanding many men have about how wrong and devastating it can be. Another issue, very well handled, is that of illegals, racism and neo-Nazism. "We forget what we want to forget and the consequence is that we lose our history, and then we can't learn from it. It's an eternal cycle and everything is repeated." Tursten never becomes preach-y, but incorporates these issues seamlessly into the plot.

"Detective Inspector Huss" is wonderfully plotted with excellent twists that keep the reader thoroughly engaged each step along the way. It is really well put together; written with stark realism which may not always be pleasant but is effective. This is seriously well worth reading.

DETECTIVE INSPECTOR HUSS (Pol Proc-Insp. Irene Huss-Sweden-Contemp) - Ex
Tursten, Helene - 1st in series
Soho Crime, 2014

Death in August (Inspector Bordelli)
Death in August (Inspector Bordelli)
by Marco Vichi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.55

4.0 out of 5 stars A very clever, well-written mystery, 9 Nov 2013
.First Sentence: Inspector Bordelli entered his office at eight o'clock in the morning after an almost sleepless night, spent tossing and turning between sweat-soaked sheets.

When the police receive a call saying a housekeeper is certain her employer is dead, it sends them to the wealthy woman's home. There, they do find the woman's body. On the surface, it appears she died of an asthma attack, but Bordelli isn't convinced. The housekeeper, Maria, believes she knows who is guilty. Bordelli must prove not only who is guilty, but how the murder was committed.

What an interesting opening. It immediately tells you important things about the protagonist, Inspector Bordelli, through a conversation--yes, there is profanity--with his boss. With each page, he becomes even more fascinating and unusual. One is privy the life about which he daydreams, memories of his past, nighttime dreams and memories from WWII.

Surrounding Bordelli are equally interesting characters. Piras, the young Sardinian whose father's life Bordelli once saved; Rodrigo, the cousin with whom Bordelli has nothing in common; Dante, the victim's brother and many others from all walks of life.

The author has a wonderful voice, "...sinking into that sort of laborious, memory-laden sleep...a kind of semi-consciousness peopled with overlapping images..." and writes delightful dialogue. One thing I found particularly interesting is that the Florence Vichi shows us is not the city for tourists. We are shown the city of it residents in August; stifling hot, claustrophobic and mosquito-filled.

"Death in August" is a very clever, well-written mystery. However, it is the characters that draw you in, keep you there and make you want to visit again and again.

DEATH IN AUGUST (Pol Proc-Inspector Bordelli-Florence, Italy-1960s) - VG

The Truth of All Things
The Truth of All Things
by Kieran Shields
Edition: Hardcover

1.0 out of 5 stars A slog to read with stereotypical characters and no strong sense of time or place, 5 Oct 2013
First Sentence: At the sound of footsteps in the alley, Maggie Keene dimmed the gas lamp and sidled up to the room's only window.

Deputy Marshal Archie Lean is summoned to a murder scene. The body of a prostitute is found, pinned to the earth with a pitchfork, her heads and limbs laid out to represent a pentagram, and her body parts removed--all in the traditional method of killing a witch. Also on the scene is Cyrus Grey, Indian and former Pinkerton who studied anatomy. In spite of their different approaches, the two men must join forces and stop a killer.

The main characters of Lean and Grey were too clearly fashioned after Watson and Holmes, almost to the point where the felt plagiarized, but with the names changes. The anachronisms were overwhelming, the speech had no reflection of the period; it seemed much too modern. As for setting, it is an area I know well. However, beyond a map-quest tour of the area, the sense of place was not evocative.

This had all the elements that would normally have appealed to me; historical, police procedural, Maine, witch trials, occult. Of course, the very small print did not help that, but that's the fault of the publisher, not the author. Still, had I been engrossed in the story, I would have persevered. Instead, I found it just didn't hold my interest.

"The Truth of All Things" was a slog to read with stereotypical characters and no strong sense of time or place. I abandoned it after the first 150 pages. I did try but just couldn't stay with it.

THE TRUTH OF ALL THINGS (Hist Mys/Pol Proc-Archie Lean/Perceval Grey-Maine-1892) - DNF
Shields, Kieran - 1st in series
Broadway Paperbacks, 2012

Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway (A Claire DeWitt Mystery)
Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway (A Claire DeWitt Mystery)
by Sara Gran
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.93

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Author has a great voice, but the story badly lacks the charm, humor and magic of the first book., 5 Oct 2013
First Sentence: I met Paul when a friend of my friend Tabith played at the Hotel Utah late on Thursday night.

An ex-boyfriend of PI Claire DeWitt is found dead. The police believe it was a robbery gone wrong, but Clair isn't convinced, particularly when were appear to be links to the past. While Claire investigates, she sends her new assistant, Claude, off on a case of miniature horses that have gone missing from a ranch in Marin County.

Sara Gran has such a wonderful, original voice and often writes passages that make you stop and think..."Maybe it was true: Life was a series of words we'd been given to arrange as we pleased, only no one seemed to know how. A word game with no right solution, a crossword puzzle where we couldn't quite remember the name of that song. 1962, "I Wish That We were ________." She is very good at expressing small truths, "Everyone things their grief is the first grief. Everyone things their grief is primary and everyone else's is secondary."

Where some author's characters refer to past cases, you feel as though you've missed a book in the series. When Claire refers to past cases, it is almost as an aside and assuring you that it is fine that you don't know the details. That said, it is very helpful to have read the actual first book in this series, "...City of the Dead."

Told in first person, this is very much a character-driven book. It is fascinating to see how Gran incorporates different philosophical beliefs into Claire's thought process. And then there is the book by the French detective Jacques Silette which seems to have almost magical properties of his own and becomes something of an on-going character in the series. However, Claire is far from being a paragon of virtue. She excels in vices; legal and illegal.

Description and sense of place are also among Gran's strengths, even if she does get a bit Map-Quest-y at times. For those who live, or know, the San Francisco Bay Area well, it is delightful following Claire to places so familiar to us. For those who don't, her descriptions and details provide the feeling of being there. Unfortunately, what is also lacking is the mystery. It is there, but it seems the clues were not.

"...Bohemian Highway" sadly lacks the charm, humor and magic of Ms. Gran's first book. I found myself more annoyed by Claire, than entranced by her. I do hope Ms. Gran's next book finds its way back to the appeal of the first, but I'm not completely certain I'll be there to read it.

Gran, Sara
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013

Place of Confinement, A (Dido Kent Mysteries)
Place of Confinement, A (Dido Kent Mysteries)
by Anna Dean
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfuly done with a delightful protagonist, 5 Oct 2013
First Sentence: My dear Eliza, I am in prison and I do not know how much longer I can bear my confinement.

Spinster Dido Kent has been sent off to Charcombe Manor with wealthy and demanding Aunt Manners. Upon arriving, she learns that Miss Letitia Verney is missing, though to have eloped to Gretna Green with Tom Lomax, wastrel son of Dido's suitor, William. There is more than one puzzle to keep Dido busy. Why is Aunt Manners giving her jewelry to George, a brother she dislikes? Why is crying heard from a deserted part of the manor house? And most urgently, how can Dido prevent Tom from being hung for the murder of a man visiting George's new resort town near the estate.

From the very opening, it is hard to resist Ms. Dido Kent and the charming letter to her sister. Ms. Dean very cleverly creates the atmosphere of there being a mystery about to unfold without resorting to the clichéd use of a portent.

Anyone familiar with Jane Austin will find themselves equating Dean's characters with those of Austin. Dean captures the details of the period perfectly from the societal structure, to the inclusion of a chamber horse, to the style of speech. "...And would you seek to change the world's opinion on the matter?" "I do not presume so far....I seek only to act as my conscience dictates. It is a matter of integrity, Mr. Lomax, not revolt." The relationship between Dido and William Lomax is wonderfully written and completely appropriate to the characters and the period.

Yet set into this period of lightness, Dean introduces murder and an element of the Gothic and dread through a grim discovery made by Dido. There does appear to be a small oversight in the logic needed to solve the crime, but it can be forgiven considering the very clever plot twist and even bigger surprise. The sub-theme of duty is very effective and adds depth to the story.

"A Place of Confinement" is wonderful. I do love Dido Kent and admire Ms. Dean's skill of creating a character who solves crimes in a way that is completely believable considering the constraints placed upon her by the period in which she is set. Do treat yourself and begin the series at the beginning.

A PLACE OF CONFINEMENT (Hist Mys/Ama Sleuth-Dido Kent-England-Georgian/1807) - VG+
Dean, Anna - 4th in series
Minotaur Books, 2013

The Executioner's Heir: A Novel of Eighteenth-Century France
The Executioner's Heir: A Novel of Eighteenth-Century France
Price: £2.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A human story and a remarkable book., 5 Oct 2013
First Sentence: "This is the sword of justice," Jean-Baptiste told him, lifting it from its long, straw-lined, padlocked crate.

Due to the illness of his father and pressure from his grandmother, Charles-Henri Sanson is forced to assume the position and title as the fourth generation hereditary master executioner of Paris. It is a position of title and power. It is also a role into which one is born and has no choice but to assume as no other professions are open to the inheritor of that role. Yet Charles must both learn his position and strive to maintain his humanity while so doing.

Ms. Alleyn wisely provides a "Cast of Characters" at the beginning of this book. This is critical, and very helpful in avoiding confusion, as she is dealing with many members of one family. That she takes this family, whose profession is as terrible as one could imagine, and make them both human and sympathetic is a remarkable accomplishment.

Charles is the antithesis of what one would imagine for his role, yet part of the power of the book is that it breaks down stereotypes. He is, to paraphrase another character's observation, prosperous, has a good education, nice manners and is very, very handsome. He also despises what he does,..."It was rather pathetic, Charles often thought, that among the crowds who came to stare at public chastisement, the one least eager to be present was the man in charge of the business." Conversely, his grandmother and sister are very matter of fact about the profession and proud of the family's title and status. That conflict makes for a very thoughtful reading.

The story deepens with the introduction of an antagonist. Although she has so done throughout the story, it is at this point, Ms. Alleyn forcefully speaks to our emotions. One doesn't just end the story, one muses over it long after the last page is turned.

The historic detail doesn't just create a sense of time and place, but includes us and informs us. It is fascinating to learn the levels of what could and could not be done, both in terms of the punishments and types of executions for different levels of crimes and society, but how bodies were handled after death. We also learn about the legal process in the days before defense lawyers.

While "The Executioner's Heir" sounds as though it could be very grim, it is not. Yes, there are passages difficult to read, but never unnecessarily graphic. It is a very human story and, in the end, about a man deciding to be the best he can be. It is a remarkable book.

THE EXECUTIONER'S HEIR (Hist Novel-Charles-Henri Sanson-France-1760s) - Ex
Alleyn, Susanne - Standalone
Spyderwort Press (1st electronic edition), 2013

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